(Art)Books we love | Women’s fashion in the 1930s 

Well, it’s #artbookfriday again and this week I like to show you a really interesting book about fashion. Yesterday Wera already told you about the actual exhibition at the Munich “Stadtmuseum”. My post is about the exhibition catalogue which is more than a standard catalogue but a real book about the topic. I like that. I think with such a delicate topic like German fashion in the 1930s there has to be more than an exhibition documenting picture book. I am very happy the museum made the effort to publish a real book on the topic with extensive background information. The exhibition features about 150 dresses and suits, together with an extensive range of accessories including furs, shoes, purses, hats, scarves, shawls, gloves, jewelry and make-up accessories. The book includes more than 300 pieces from the collection which were never displayed yet.

The book is divided into 17(!) chapters about the historic context and conditions of fashion in the 1930s in Germany. They don’t leave anything out and also face the dark times and the beginning of the Nazi Regime. Internationally, women’s fashion in the 1930s mixed glamorous chic with a sporty, casual look; something which was clearly against all the sick ideals of the Nazi Party. With clichéd images of strapping young blondes in uniform and stolid mothers of soldiers they tried to convince women to let go of the fashion from Paris and change the way they live. The catalogue complements the presentation of the dresses and accessorize of the museum’s collection with material from magazines and photographs of the time. The author, Isabella Belting (curator of the museum’s fashion collection), explains the fight of the Nazis against the common way to dress and how the women got around it. If you’re interested in fashion and our cultural heritage and history you have to read this book. There is so much in there that I see no way of telling you everything I learned.

To a lot of interesting facts like the one that women tried to change outfits several times a day to match different occasions like office time, cocktail hour and dinner, there’re also all the awful things in there we shouldn’t forget about. Like the fact that most fashion stores were owned by Jewish people at the times which had to flee the country and leave everything behind. Before the Nazis appeared there were 50.000 fashion stores in Germany. After they started their ill campaigns against the Jewish population there were just 9.000 left which were handed illegally to “Germans”. This is one more terrifying thing that happened at the time but I never heard about it before. In school we were taught the big things and all the important dates, but how big the extent of the destruction of everyday life went, how sick it became even when it comes to things like fashion is still unbelievable. Did you know they even founded the “German Fashion Office” (Deutsches Modeamt) in Berlin? They really tried to destroy the fashion industry and every way of expressing yourself.

On the other hand the political party was highly paradox about fashion. Even after the outbreak of war, the regime maintained a largely tolerant attitude towards elegant French fashion styles, seeing them as a weakness of the fairer sex. The Nazis, it should also be said, were anxious to portray themselves as cosmopolitan in the eyes of the wider world. Besides, the fashion industry was vital to the German economy. Hence, Germany as a whole, and Berlin in particular, continued to source international fashion from Paris and Vienna and bring it to German women.

A yawning gulf had opened up between what fashion was supposed to be in principle and what people actually wore in real life. Nazi Party slogans called, on the one hand, for a return to traditional German values, and yet, at the same time, encouraged people to increase their consumption and aspire to cosmopolitan style to boost the economic recovery. As a result, the German fashion industry and its female customers often suffered from a degree of schizophrenia. The exhibition examines the German Master School of Fashion (Deutsche Meisterschule für Mode), founded in 1931, as a prime example of this particular conflict. (Source: museum website)

Before this post becomes a whole book chapter itself I will stop myself. As you probably already got I really liked reading this book and I learned a lot. Unfortunately it’s only available in German. Fun stuff and important historic facts we should never forget. It also convinced me again that this blog was a great idea, because fashion and art are not just highly related to one another but to our history and culture.

The Book

Women's fashion in the 1930s

Women's fashion in the 1930s

Women's fashion in the 1930s

Women's fashion in the 1930s

#artbook | DAMENMODE DER 1930ER-JAHRE – »Gretchen mag’s mondän!«

#author | Isabella Belting

#publishing house | Hirmer

#language | German

#ISBN | 978-3-7774-2473-6

#pages | 300

you can get your copy here.

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